The New York School Bus Contractors Association (NYSBCA) recognized several members with industry awards during the association's recent annual convention held in Monticello, N.Y. at the Resorts World Catskills.
"This year’s conference turnout was the best we’ve seen in years," said Nick Vallone, NYSBCA past president. "It’s always nice to see all our stakeholders get together and discuss all things school bus. On a personal note, it was special for me to end my presidency in my hometown and hand over the reins to a friend and our new President Thomas Smith.”
“What a great conference we had celebrating the successes within our industry!" said Smith, the new board president. "We had a busy year with driver shortages statewide, and we all have been working tirelessly on navigating school bus electrification for our industry. I’m excited about the upcoming year, and with a new executive committee in place, we are ready to continue to move our industry forward together.”
School Bus Contractor of the Year
The association's highest honor, the Roger Weeks Contractor of the Year Award, goes to a contractor with an exceptional safety and performance record, superior maintenance and training programs, and who is deeply involved with their local communities.
This year’s Contractor of the Year Award went to Daniel C. Higbie, general manager of Mid-City Transit/STA. Higbie is described as a consummate representative for the school bus transportation industry who makes a significant difference in the industry and with his colleagues. He has been an active member of NYSBCA for over 20 years and served on the board for at least 10 of those years. Higbie is transforming his fleet to electric vehicles and is currently operating about 15 electric buses.
“I am humbled and grateful to be recognized with the Roger Weeks Contractor of the Year Award for Mid-City Transit," Higbie said. "The honor would not be possible without the unwavering support from the Student Transportation of America team, the steadfast partnership with the Middletown City School District, and my wonderful colleagues who work tirelessly to safely transport students to and from school every day. I share this award with all of them and thank the New York School Bus Contractors Association for recognizing me with this distinction."
The Contractor of the Year Award winner also receives the Roger Weeks Scholarship Award, which includes a $1,000 scholarship to the winner’s school district of choice.
NYSBCA Leadership Award
NYSBCA selected Vincent Riscica with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to receive the Leadership Award, which recognizes an individual for their valuable contribution to the school bus industry and partnership with NYSBCA. The association said: "Vinny has been a valuable partner as we navigate the transition to the electrification of school buses. He has worked with NYSBCA as a stakeholder to provide the school bus contractor's perspective as NYSERDA develops the roadmap and guidebook regarding the mandate all new school buses sold in New York State be zero-emission by 2027 and all school buses on the road be zero-emission by 2035."
He has worked more than a year and a half since joining NYSERDA to introduce people to the idea of electric school buses, identify the challenges to electric school bus adoption, and find solutions to those challenges.
Heart of the Industry Awards
The association gives out two Heart of the Industry Awards: one to an "on-road" employee and the other to an "off-road" employee. The Heart of the Industry Award honors an industry employee who, through the course of their job performance, has demonstrated a deep commitment to improving other people's lives and has gone above and beyond to accomplish that goal. These awards are sponsored by Bird Bus Sales & Service and were presented by Robert Reichenbach.
NYSBCA's On-Road Heart of the Industry Award went to Ijandor Mansey with Grandpa's Bus Co. On Tuesday, May 23, 2023, several students were evacuated safely after a fire engulfed an entire school bus in Rego Park Queens. However, it was thanks to a real-life hero that this disaster did not turn tragic. The school bus driver, Ijandor Mansey, with over 30 years behind the wheel, is being given all the credit for shepherding half a dozen young, frightened students off the bus and away from danger.
"The bus driver did a great job. There were six kids still on the bus, and as soon as it ignited, the driver was able to get them off quickly to a safe place out of the way. No kids were hurt," said New York City Battalion Chief Brian Hanrahan.
"The bus driver was fabulous," one neighbor said. "I think he's a true hero, and the kids, thank God nobody was hurt. The cars can all be fixed."
His actions that day and dedication to his job will have an everlasting impact on the students, parents, and the industry, NYSBCA said.
This year's Off-Road award winner is Dell Transportation Corp.'s Susan Westad, nominated by Robert Pape. Westad has been a dedicated employee of Dell Transportation for 48 years and is well-recognized in the industry for her expertise. She is a guiding force to the staff at Dell. Her low-key, easy-going demeanor resonates with calmness in our fast-paced, hectic business. She begins her day at 4:45 a.m. and often doesn't leave until 5:30 p.m. Her dedication and conscientiousness have made Dell Transportation a well-respected company in the industry, NYSBCA said.
Distinguished Service Awards
NYSBCA also recognizes individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the school bus transportation industry under the category of the Distinguished Service Award.
Terry O'Halloran with Suffolk Transportation Service, Inc. was selected to receive the Distinguished Service award for her many years of support and attendance at NYSBCA meetings. Terry developed a document that outlines the arduous task of the DMV registration process for fleet renewals, which helped NYSBCA to advocate for contractors and ask DMV to consider online registrations or a two-year registration for fleet renewals. NYSBCA appreciates her willingness to develop a document that outlines the current process, including photos for a visual impact, along with suggestions to help NYSBCA in our advocacy efforts to improve the process for all school bus contractors.
NYSBCA also recognized the elected officials who continue to show their commitment to help with the school bus driver shortage and work with the association to navigate the electric school bus vehicle mandate as we come together to build a roadmap for this unprecedented initiative in New York State. This year’s recipients are Assemblyman Michael Benedetto and New York State Senator Shelley B. Mayer.
Legislator of the Year Award
This year, NYSBCA presented the Legislator of the Year Award to a state elected official who demonstrates an unmatched dedication to the association’s mission to provide the safest, most reliable, cost-effective, and unmatched student transportation possible.
Senator James Skoufis continues to work with the school bus industry as we navigate the mandates for school bus electrification and the driver shortage. He sponsored a bill to amend the education law in relation to contract modification, which is the association's top advocacy priority.
Celebrating Robert Pape of Dell Transportation
NYSBCA said it has been honored with several members who have been consistently active and involved for decades in helping advance the association's efforts. Robert Pape with Dell Transportation was recognized for his decades of service to the school bus industry and his impact with his colleagues, associations, state and federal partners as an advocate and a voice of the industry. NYSBCA congratulated Pape on his successful career and well wishes for a happy retirement to enjoy with his wife "Saint Judy" and his children.